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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The National Eisteddfod of Wales: Carmarthenshire, 1–9 August





The Maes looking splendid in preparation for next week’s event.
Next week, the Royal Commission will be joining other Welsh heritage bodies at this year’s National Eisteddfod in Llanelli. Throughout the week, staff will be on hand to answer enquiries and chat to visitors.  Come and visit us in heritage row (stand 601-603), where you will also find Cadw, the National Museum Wales, and Dyfed, & Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trusts. This year’s new exhibition will focus on the centenary of the First World War and the successful Britain from Above collaborative project. Highlights will include a talk by Dr Eurwyn Wiliam, Chairman of the Royal Commission, on Friday  8 August at 10.30am in Pabell y Cymdeithasau 2, on recent Commission discoveries in Dyfed: Darganfod hanes Dyfed: darganfyddiadau diweddar Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru ac eraill. A new collaborative quiz has been arranged by Cadw, with ten questions based on information easily retrievable from the stands of the four heritage bodies, with a prize of a year’s free family Cadw membership. Come along and have a try!



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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Community Archaeologist works with YAC






I have been involved with the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) for a few years now as an assistant leader. The recent work and training I have been doing with the Royal Commission has allowed me to put all these skills into practice with YAC.

YAC is the only UK-wide club for young people aged up to 17 interested in archaeology. The club is run by the Council for British Archaeology; an educational charity working for over 65 years to promote ‘Archaeology for All’. YAC’s vision is for all young people to have opportunities to be inspired and excited by archaeology, and to empower them to help shape its future.

YAC was started 40 years ago in August 1972 by Dr Kate Pretty. Its name then was Young Rescue and it was the junior branch of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. Initially it was just going to be based in Cambridge but after publicity in The Times it was launched as a national club.

Last week I led a session for the Swansea YAC on oral histories and I thought you might like to see what we got up to.

I started the session with a presentation on Oral History, which included interview techniques and how to use the recording equipment. We then put this into practice by interviewing grandparents, parents and each other about growing up and living in Swansea.



In previous sessions we had been working on a First World War theme, which we then continued with in the second half of the session. I had brought in a First World War themed handling collection including letters, postcards and artefacts, which we scanned. I also brought in Ordnance Survey maps from the period and modern ones along with aerial photographs and they had a great time comparing everything. We finished the session by making poppy wreaths.

I’ve also been very busy preparing events for the Festival of Archaeology – you can find more details here: http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/whatson/results

By Sarahjayne Clements.


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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sites and Monuments with links to the Great War





As part of its work programmes in support of events commemorating the First World War the Royal Commission has been enhancing the National Monuments Record in respect of sites and monuments with links to the Great War. David Leighton, Senior Investigator, and Medwyn Parry, the Commission’s expert on military history, have been taking a closer look at rifle ranges. These were established in significant numbers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards as local volunteer militias and rifle associations were set up. Dozens have been identified across Wales, usually located in fairly remote places such as the fringe uplands above towns and villages, old industrial workings, estuaries, marshes and sand dunes, but also on farmland.


Dolgellau rifle range (NPRN 419815): view of the still-intact target winding gear behind the revetted target mound. Rising ground to the right, on the opposite side of the road, acted as the stop-butt. Established in the mid-1890s the range was upgraded to its present form a few years later. (image: DS2014_090_001)

The County Series Ordnance Survey maps, which started to appear after 1870, depict many of these sites. They typically show a target, or a line of targets, which were probably portable, at one end of a firing line with shooting positions marked at 100 yard intervals up to a distance of 1000 yards, though usually shorter. More complex examples might include a ‘marker’s hut’ or a ‘mantelet’, a protective screen or bunker to shelter the markers, and perhaps several separate firing lines. Shooting positions were usually shown as points but were sometimes depicted schematically as ‘box’ features, which might indicate a wooden stand or perhaps something more substantial such as an earthen mound, examples of which still survive. Firing lines were often directed so that naturally rising ground behind the targets (e.g. NPRN 413309) or even an old quarry face or spoil tip (419602) might act as the ‘stop-butt’ to catch bullets. Elsewhere, earthwork banks were raised (420199).

By the later nineteenth century local militias were being drawn into the regimental system and a degree of rationalisation of training grounds took place. Some ranges were already shown as ‘disused’ on first-edition Ordnance Survey maps, but some new sites were established and many others were redeveloped as technology moved on and more powerful rifles became available.

It was not just technical advances that lay behind new developments. Safety concerns also came to the fore. War Office guidelines in the 1890s led to changes at many ranges and the closure of others. Rifle ranges, particularly the undeveloped ones, could be dangerous places and accidents, even fatalities, were not uncommon despite the use of bugles and warning flags. Such incidents were widely reported. In 1902, for example, a schoolgirl was shot dead at the Presteigne range while collecting wimberries in woodland behind the targets (420175). The Llangollen range was condemned in 1903 after a soldier was badly wounded there (413317). Markers were especially vulnerable at the older ranges where mantelets and shelter huts were placed close to targets. In 1890 a marker at the Cardigan range on the Pentwd Marshes was shot through the hand while repairing a target (413338). At the Haverfordwest range in 1896 a marker was seriously hurt when a bullet entered both his thighs and ‘passed out at the other side’. Nonetheless, the report adds, ‘the bullet struck the target…..and was registered as an inner just below the bull’s eye’. The following year the range failed a safety review and an alternative location was found (518723).


Rifle mound at the 600-yard shooting position on the Caldicot rifle range (NPRN 419523); 1 metre scale. The range was probably established just before or during the First World War and remained fully operational until the mid-1990s. (image: DS2013_511_002)

An example of upgrading is the range on Merthyr Mawr Warren near Porthcawl (415721). This was initially set up in the 1880s, or thereabouts, possibly when an earlier range at nearby Candleston was closed down (420030). It was laid out conventionally with a line of targets, markers’ huts between them, and firing positions shown as lines of posts over 600 yards. This was described as an ‘old rifle range’ in 1899 but by 1904 it had been completely remodelled with the creation (on the same site) of more permanent structures. Local newspapers described the new range and its patent design in reports of its opening. Targets were now mounted on a winding mechanism. This was set into a slit trench and allowed targets to be raised and lowered behind a revetted linear mound, which sheltered the markers under a roofed, open gallery. Beyond the targets Cog-y-brain, a massive sand dune, acted as the stop-butt. Control rooms were also built with communication cables to each firing point. Shooting positions were marked by linear mounds, which also appear on maps. The range remained in use during the Second World War and after and although some refurbishment was likely the structures visible there now are much as they were during the First World War. In developed ranges like this the massive nature of the earthworks, and their marginal locations, mean that many ranges – though long out of use – can still be traced on the ground today.

Rifle ranges were not just training grounds. They were often also venues for public entertainment. Competitions were held regularly with spectator facilities provided, usually followed by prize-giving events, and were reported in the local press. But they could also be a source of friction in communities. An example is the range on Park Common near Machynlleth, now the town golf course. An early range here had gone out of use before 1887 but in 1900 a new one was built on the same alignment as the old one (420131). Correspondence and reports of local authority meetings (1900–04) reveal the conflict this created. Objections centred on the firing line crossing the road to Llanidloes and there was also a perceived threat to common rights. However, this was the time of the Boer War and local volunteer corps numbers had increased sharply generating considerable demand for a new range. Despite the controversy the range successfully opened when it was reported that ‘shooting mounds, flag-staffs, target mound, buildings etc’ were built. The range went on to have a long history of use, throughout both world wars. The target mound and its revetment wall are still visible today, they are converted into an equipment shed.

After the First World War the number of ranges declined as fewer, larger, more centralised sites were developed. Legislation since the Second World War curtailing the ownership and use of firearms accelerated this decline. But the structural features of many ranges survive in the modern landscape and are a reminder not only of the character of local military training in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also of what was once a popular recreational and social activity.

By David Leighton


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Monday, 14 July 2014

Happy Birthday! Coflein is ten years old





On 13 July 2004 Alun Pugh, then the Welsh Assembly Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language, launched Coflein – the online database of the National Monuments Record of Wales. In his speech to an audience at Crickhowell House, the predecessor of the Senedd Building as the home of the Welsh Assembly, the Minister described the service and the ground-breaking SWISH (Shared Web Information Services for Heritage) partnership that brought it into being. This partnership, between the Welsh Royal Commission and its counterpart organisation in Scotland, still manages Coflein, as well as other services such as Historic Wales, and has been responsible for the site’s development over the past 10 years.

The original SWISH Team in 2004 responsible for developing Coflein. The photograph includes project managers and database developers from the Royal Commissions in Scotland and Wales.

As the online version of the database of the National Monument Record of Wales, Coflein provides access to its collections on the archaeology, historic architecture, industrial and maritime heritage of Wales. When it was launched information was available on 64,000 sites. In the intervening years, because of the Royal Commission’s ongoing recording, surveying and data enhancement work, this figure has risen to almost 110,000. The figure for the increase in access to digital resources from the archive is even more remarkable. At the launch in 2004 around 3000 images were accessible. In 2014 over 105,000 digital items are available, including scanned images, maps and manuscripts as well as digital photographs. This reflects the focus on digitisation in the Commission and the change in photographic practice over the past 10 years that means all our photography is now digital. Working practices ensure that material collected in the field is rapidly made available on Coflein.

Because of the ongoing nature of the SWISH partnership, the site has evolved over the past 10 years. In 2008 changes to the underlying technology and design of the front-end allowed a major refresh to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Commission. This was followed in 2011 by a revised mapping application that allowed integration of text and map-based queries. In 2012, direct searching of the catalogue was enabled, allowing users to gather information from specific collections or contributors, in addition to existing site-based querying. Further planned developments include integration of an enquiry and e-commerce system, and the inclusion of historic maps in the mapping application.

The new mapping application, launched in 2011, allows integrated map and text searching. The photograph, of St Anne’s Lighthouse in Pembrokeshire, is one of more than 105,000 digital items from the NMRW now available on Coflein.

Recently the technology behind Coflein has been developed to serve content to other websites. People’s Collection Wales, a website that aggregates material from heritage organisations, historical societies and individuals across Wales includes nearly 10,000 items served directly from Coflein. National Monument Record information can therefore be viewed alongside items from the National Library, National Museum and other contributors. The Britain from Above website uses material from the Aerofilms Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales alongside similar material from collections in England and Scotland as part of a UK-wide project featuring aerial photographs from 1919 to 1953 from this unique collection. The SWISH partnership itself has also developed Historic Wales, a map-based website that gathers together records from holders of information from the historic environment across Wales, including Cadw, the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts and the National Museum Wales.

Direct catalogue searching has been possible since 2012. Material from the Aerofilms Collection has been used to populate the Britain from Above website alongside material from corresponding collections in England and Scotland.

The use of Coflein has grown steadily since its launch. In the last year there have been over a million page views and over 300,000 users. Feedback from users has usually been positive, and we have received lots of additional information about sites across the country, as well as a few corrections! If you’re a regular user, then thank you for using Coflein, if you’re not then why not give it a go!

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Call for Volunteers in the Swansea Area!





Saturday 12 July, 2014

Sarahjayne Clements, the Royal Commission’s CBA Community Archaeologist, is looking for volunteers to interview for an oral histories project she is running in Swansea with the Young Archaeologist Club. They would like to record memories of the city and scan any old photographs that you might have. They are also interested in any First World War memories, photographs and memorabilia that you may have. If you are able to help with this community project, please contact sarahjayne.clements@rcahmw.gov.uk  Tel: 07817575005.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Aerofilms: Britain from Above comes to Cardiff Airport





Francis Lewis Wills, pilot Jerry Shaw and Claude Friese-Greene in a DH9B biplane, July 1919
© English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection AFL03/Aerofilms/C12930.
From now – 7 November, 2014

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has a fascinating exhibition of historic images now on display at Cardiff Airport. Appropriately located in this modern busy airport, the Wales Aerofilms: Britain from Above exhibition draws on historic aerial images from across Wales. From this exhibition, throughout the airport, travellers will encounter breath-taking images drawn from the unique archive of the Aerofilms Collection, dating from 1919 to 2006. Set up in the early years of aviation, Aerofilms’ founders ─ daredevil veterans from the First World War ─ were pioneers of the air, establishing the world’s first commercial air photographic business. A collection of adventurers, showmen and aviation enthusiasts, the firm married the fledgling technology of flight to the discipline of photography. From the very start of operations, Aerofilms took photographs of virtually every settlement and landscape that it flew over. Acquired for the nation in 2007 by English Heritage and the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Scotland, and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the collection contains over one million images and presents an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the twentieth century.

In parallel with national exhibitions also being held in Edinburgh, Hendon and Birmingham, the Wales exhibition now being held at Cardiff Airport will include: an image-rich introduction to the Aerofilms Collection, a wide-ranging presentation on Cardiff Then and Now, and iconic photographs of Welsh sites, including the Edwardian castles that are now World Heritage Sites. Where possible period views have been matched with the Royal Commission’s modern aerial photographs to prompt reflection on the meaning and impact of change, place and memory.


Aerofilms attending a promotional event, National Aviation Day Display, 1930s
© English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection AFL03/Aerofilms/B5794.

Oystermouth Castle, Swansea, 1947
Oystermouth Castle was founded in c.1107. This photograph shows the castle overgrown and surrounded by allotments, presumably established for the war effort. The allotment gardens are still cultivated and the castle has been restored.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. WAW007664, NPRN: 94508

Cardiff Civic Centre, 1920
The fine Civic Centre buildings in Cathays Park, Cardiff, showing  the City Hall, the Law Courts, and  the National Museum, which was then under construction and did not open until 1927.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. WPW001008, NPRN: 401617

Cardiff Civic Centre, 2006
Cardiff’s fine Civic Centre at Cathays Park, with the university buildings, National Museum, City Hall, Law Courts and Government Offices, and with the Welsh National War Memorial at its centre.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. AP_2006_1824
Cardiff Arms Park, 1947
Cardiff Arms Park served as the Welsh National Rugby Stadium for nearly 30 years until 1997, but its rugby history dates back to 1881 when stands were first erected on the site.
© Crown Copyright RCAHMW. WAW005393, NPRN: 3064

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Friday, 27 June 2014

28 June 1914 - The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand





Saturday 28 June is a very significant date for the commemoration of the First World War. It will be 100 years to the day since the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his Czech wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg.

During that morning a young Serbian militant Nedeljko Cabrinovic, had thrown a small rudimentary explosive device at the royal motorcade. The bomb bounced off the intended target of the limousine carrying the Archduke, and exploded underneath the following car, inflicting only minor injuries to the occupants. Four other members of the gang lost their nerve, and melted into the crowd. They were all members of “Unity of Death”, a secret society that had connections at a high level within the government. Many knew the movement by the more colourful name of “The Black Hand”. The security team responsible for the protection of the Archduke were stranded at the railway station, but protocol demanded the tour should continue. At the next scheduled stop a very shaken Archduke commented “I come here as your guest and you people greet me with bombs”.

They were advised to cut short their schedule, but the couple insisted on a short detour to the hospital to visit those that had been injured during the earlier incident, but nobody told the driver of their limousine. When the car turned into Franz Joseph Street, one of the entourage, Oskar Potiorek instructed the driver to get back on to the intended route. The limousine, a Graf & Stift Double Phaeton, had no reverse gear, so the chauffeur got out and started to push the car backwards. By pure chance, standing only 5 feet away was another member of the Black Hand, Serbian revolutionary Gravilo Pricip. He seized the opportunity and tried to detonate a small bomb, without success. So he pulled out his FN Model 1910 semi-automatic pistol, stepped on to the running board of the Graf, and quickly fired two shots. The Archduke was hit in the neck, and his wife was hit in the stomach - she died almost instantly. The Archduke was heard to shout “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die – stay alive for our children”. Within a short while, he was also dead.

The following six weeks, known as the “July Crisis”, were probably the most complex sequence of political events ever experienced in European history, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914.

The Royal Commission is supporting various initiatives to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Archive records relating to sites connected to the conflict can be searched on-line via our database Coflein, or through the National Monuments Record of Wales enquiry service.

By Medwyn Parry


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Friday, 20 June 2014

Community History Day at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Chapel, Trecynon





On Wednesday 11 June the Royal Commission and Addoldai Cymru (Welsh Religious Buildings Trust) held a community history day at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Unitarian Chapel (NPRN 8941) in Trecynon, Aberdare. The aim of the day was to gather memories, including photographs and documents, relating to the history of the chapel.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, established at Trecynon in 1751, is the oldest Nonconformist place of worship in the Aberdare district. Its origins extend back to the dissenting meeting houses at Cwmyglo and Blaencanaid Farm on the mountainside between Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil. The chapel was built on land donated by nearby farm, Gadlys-uchaf. At this time the chapel would have been relatively isolated, with the settlement of Trecynon only established after the opening of Aberdare Ironworks in 1800. The original cottage-like meeting house was demolished and replaced by the present chapel in 1862. Its design, by Evan Griffiths of Aberdare, was intended to be ‘simple and strong, reflecting Unitarian beliefs in liberty, tolerance and forbearance’.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Chapel, constructed in 1862.

Although its congregation only ever numbered around 80 people, Hen Dŷ Cwrdd played a prominent role in the story of Unitarianism in Wales. From 1811–1833 its minister was the Rev. Thomas Evans (Tomos Glyn Cothi), renowned hymn writer and author of one of Wales’ first English-Welsh dictionaries. He was the first specifically Unitarian minister in Wales and pioneer of radical political, social and religious reform movements. He was reportedly invited to be minister whilst serving a sentence at Carmarthen Jail for composing a song in support of the French Revolution. Underneath the pulpit is a list of all the chapel’s ministers from 1756–1965.

Register of ministers at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd 1756–1962.

For over 100 years, Hen Dŷ Cwrdd was the only Unitarian place of worship in the Cynon Valley, until a chapel was opened at Cwmbach in 1859. Members of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd’s congregation included: Rees Hopkin Rhys (known locally as ‘Blind Rhys’, having lost his sight in an explosion at Dowlais Works), who was largely responsible for the development of Aberdare Park and the improvement of water and sewage schemes and other public amenities in the town; William Williams (known locally as Carw Coch), leading figure in the development of the eisteddfod movement and landlord of the Stag Inn, where he held the Carw Coch eisteddfod from 1841; Thomas Dafydd Llywelyn, famous harpist, who brought the newly written song ‘Mae Hen Gwlad Fy Nhadau’ to public notice at the National Eisteddfod in 1858 (before it went on to become the national anthem); Griffith Rhys Jones (known as Caradog), conductor of the South Wales Choral Union, who led them to victory in the 1882 and 1883 Crystal Palace Challenge Cup; and Evan Thomas, who patented important improvements to the Miner’s Safety Lamp in 1887.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd closed its doors to worshippers in 1995 and has since stood empty. The chapel is now in the care of Addoldai Cymru, which aims to restore the building and bring it back into community use.

The interior of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd today.

Working with local communities, The Royal Commission and Addoldai Cymru are developing an interactive virtual museum, which will tell the story of Nonconformity in Wales. Resources are to include the creation of virtual access to chapels in the care of Addoldai Cymru through laser scanning, gigapixel photography and computer visualisation. This will add to Addoldai Cymru’s wider project to create a Faith Trail linking Hen Dŷ Cwrdd and other Unitarian chapels across Wales, including Capel Pen-rhiw (from Dre-fach Felindre, Carmarthenshire, now in St Fagans National History Museum ) and Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen (Ceredigion).

The Hen Dŷ Cwrdd community history day was held at the adjacent Mount Pleasant Hotel. We received a steady stream of visitors throughout the afternoon, including Hen Dŷ Cwrdd’s last minister, the Rev. Eric Jones, who brought numerous items to be scanned, including some of the chapel’s historic minute books.

The Royal Commission’s Helen Rowe chats to a local resident about his memories of the chapel.

We were also visited by Addoldai Cymru volunteer, Chris King, who has produced hand-drawn measured survey drawings of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd and other chapels in the area, a number of which he brought along to be copied.

The Royal Commission’s Susan Fielding discussing architectural drawings of the chapel with volunteer, Chris King.

Royal Commission and Aberystwyth University staff members were on hand to demonstrate survey techniques in the chapel grounds.

The Royal Commission’s Ross Cook, demonstrating how to survey a building using a total station.



Marek Ososinski of Aberystwyth University, explaining the process of laser scanning to the Rev. Eric Jones.

As part of the project, more community history days are to be held at other chapels during June and July, at:
  • Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen: 25 June, 2─7pm at Capel Llwynrhydowen, Pontsian, Llandysul, Ceredigion, SA44 4UB.
  • Peniel, Tremadog: 10 July, 2─7pm at Capel Peniel, Tremadog, Porthmadog, Gwynedd, LL49 9PS.
  • Bethania, Maesteg: 23 July, 2─7pm at Capel Bethania, Bethania Street, Maesteg CF34 9EX.

By: Nikki Vousden


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